Radium Age Science Fiction: the Gold Before the Golden Age

37 MinutesMany people date the official birth of science fiction as a genre to 1926, when Hugo Gernsback launched Amazing Stories and coined the portmanteau “scientifiction.” But by the time Gernsback came on the scene, science- and technology-driven storytelling had already been thriving for decades (Gernsback himself published his seminal novella Ralph 124C 41+ in 1911). Now, after nearly a century of neglect, many of the classics of this forgotten era are coming out in fresh new editions courtesy of HiLoBooks, the new book imprint of HiLobrow. And better yet, they’re coming out in a form that is near and dear to our hearts here at Channel 37as weekly web serials!

While we here at Channel 37 take our literary cues from a later generation of science fiction, we are keenly aware that the writers from that era were themselves inspired by the pioneering stories of Gernsback, Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others who were busy producing speculative fiction between 1904 and 1933 — an era that HiLoBooks has dubbed the “Radium Age.” Here’s how they describe it:

“Science fiction’s most fascinating era began in 1904 and ended in 1933. We’ve dubbed it the Radium Age of science fiction because the phenomenon of radioactivity — the 1903 discovery that matter is neither solid nor still and is, at least in part, a state of energy, constantly in movement — is a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered.”

First up on their list of serialized titles is Jack London’s novel The Scarlet Plague, which will be running through April. It will be followed in June by Rudyard Kipling’s novel With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D. and essay “As Easy as A.B.C” — taking place in a future where giant airships straddle the globe carrying mail, freight, and passengers. Fans of our first serialized story, The Terror from the Other Dimension!, will surely appreciate this vision.

Channel 37 salutes HiLoBooks for introducing today’s readers to some of the foundational epics of science fiction, and also for reminding us of an era when science and technology were the heralds of the promised utopian era yet to come — an era that for some of us is still right around the corner, waiting to be conjured by our stories, our imaginations, and our goodwill.

Many thanks to loyal reader David Joyner for passing along the news of this cool new venture!

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